At the moment I'm playing with a couple of social networking apps to see if I can find a way of supporting students in developing social reading strategies to support their engagement with English Literature texts they are studying on their modules. I'm particularly interested in finding ways to make the behaviours and engagements that high-achieving students have with the primary texts they're studying more transparent to students who do less well. This kind of 'folksonomic' approach to learning is usually only visible in seminar interactions and that is only ever going to be a very small sliver of a glimpse. Social reading apps are always going to be partial as well, but I can't help thinking that they may offer new ways of supporting peer, social learning in Higher Education.
The apps I'm looking at are as follows:
Lemon Tree is our fabulous library game. It links to students' library use (both physical and virtual) and allows students to see the library engagement of their student colleagues. It allows students to share which books they've borrowed, how frequently and when they visit the library, they're use of ezproxy and many other things. It also allows them to review books and comment on them and to see who else has borrowed the books they have. It links to Facebook and rewards students with virtual badges and growth on their personal lemon trees.
Benefits: it allows students to see library behaviour clearly and to share thoughts and responses to texts.
Goodreads is a social reading app that allows people to share the books they have read, are reading and want to read in the future. It allows people to rank their readings (by five star value) and to join groups, sort their reading on shelves, engage in polls. I've built a private space for people who are keen to join my experiment over the summer, but there is also a facility for student groups to be formed. It's clear to me that this app is already widely used and it's highly likely that students of English Literature are already using this to support their learning and engagement with texts. I'm keen to support this more formally by embedding it into the teaching and learning design of a module.
Benefits: this is more text focussed and allows students to engage in discussions and other types of interactions around the text(s) they are reading in common. Again, reading behaviour is more visible and obvious to others.
Readmill is a social reading app that is more granular than those already described. It allows people to share highlights and notes that they have made within a text and to comment on or like the highlights made by others on that same or other texts. Like the other apps you can 'follow' like minded folks and friends (so therefore student colleagues). It allows you to synch with an eReading device (I'm using a kindle touch) but also operates as an eReading device in its own right and has an iPad and iPhone app for this purpose.
Benefits: this gets us to a deeper level than the apps in that we can see not just what others are reading and their reactions/responses to the text(s) as a whole, but we can also see how they are reading it: which aspects of the primary text they consider to be valuable and why.
Kindle is of course an eReading device that allows social highlighting which can operate in a similar way to Readmill but is device specific. I've recently purchased a kindle touch and am enjoying the hardware and software (although it's not as intuitive as I had hoped at times). The fact that so many literary texts are available very cheaply or even free means that an eReading device is a good investment for English Literature students (buying a Kindle and getting the texts so cheaply has got to be better value than buying all the set texts for a degree second hand I would have thought). I've been disappointed at the lack of availability of some texts (there is no eCopy of Said's Orientalism for instance which I found astonishing) but that will improve with time.
As I say - I'm pretty confident students are already using these social reading apps regardless of whether we know about them or not. I'm keen to develop my social reading skills over the summer so that I can use them in a more proactive way in my modules in the future. I've gathered together a few like-minded English Lit and librarian types and we're going to do some social reading experiments over the summer. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!